Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images
Wizards face Magic Wednesday night in Orlando
The Wizards (12-24) take their two-game winning streak to Orlando, facing the Magic (17-20) on Wednesday at 7:00 P.M. Washington is coming off wins over the Nuggets and Celtics while Orlando has won three of its last four games. The teams met just one week ago, a 122-101 Magic win.
Amway Center | 7:00 P.M. | NBCSW | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Isaiah Thomas, G – Gary Payton II, G – Jordan McRae, F – Isaac Bonga, C – Ian Mahinmi
Magic: G – Markelle Fultz, G – Evan Fournier, F – Wes Iwundu, F – Aaron Gordon, C – Nikola Vucevic
Wizards: Bradley Beal (lower right leg soreness – questionable), Davis Bertans (right quad strain – out), Thomas Bryant (right foot stress reaction – out), Rui Hachimura (groin injury – out), Garrison Mathews (sprained right ankle – out), C.J. Miles (left wrist surgery – out), Moritz Wagner (left ankle sprain – out), John Wall (left Achilles rehab – out)
Magic: Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee, torn meniscus – out), Michael Carter-Williams (left shoulder, AC joint sprain – out), Jonathan Isaac (left knee, posterior lateral corner injury and medial bone contusion – out)
Ish’s hot streak
Ish Smith, playing in his tenth NBA season, is on the best scoring stretch of his career, averaging 29.5 points and 6.0 assists per game in his last two outings. He’s led the Wizards to wins over a pair of the league’s best teams, the Nuggets and Celtics. Saturday night against Denver, Smith went off for a career-high 32 points on 15-24 (.625) from the field and eight assists. He followed the performance up Monday night with a team-high 27-point game against the Celtics. Smith has come through in the clutch for Washington, scoring 13 and 14 points, respectively, in the fourth quarters of the wins over Denver and Boston. Wizards fans took notice Monday night, showering Smith with “M-V-P” chants in the fourth quarter as Smith attempted a pair of free throws.
“If it were a two-game season, I would have to agree with the crowd: MVP,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said postgame. “Man, that guy, he's hard to stay in front of. He changes direction, his pace, speed, it's hard—it's hard to stay in front of him.”
“Ish is good. Real good,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after Monday’s game. “I don’t know if you watched the Denver game, but he was ridiculous in that one too. Fourth quarter, he was amazing. He's on skates right now and he's feeling a great rhythm.”
In the last two games, the Wizards are a completely different team when Smith is on the court. In the 65 minutes Smith has played, Washington has a plus-17.0 net rating compared to the minus-9.7 rating when he rests. Smith and the rest of the Wizards backcourt will have their work cut out for them against a Magic team that provides as challenging a test as any team in the league with length and ability to clog passing lanes. Orlando ranks in the top five in both steals and blocks per game.
Wizards earning tough wins despite injuries
As has been the case for the last month, the status of the Wizards’ rotation remains in flux due to a number of injuries to contributing players. Already missing Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, C.J. Miles, Moritz Wagner and John Wall, the Wizards saw upstart rookie Garrison Mathews go down with a right ankle sprain early in the second quarter of Monday’s game against Boston. Beal has missed three straight and five of the Wizards’ last six games, but head coach Scott Brooks has said that he expects Beal, Bertans and Bryant to return to the lineup soon. In the meantime, the Wizards haven’t missed a beat and are getting contributions from a number of unlikely names. Brooks has noted that the team’s positive attitude and approach to off days have been key to notching a few wins through the rush of injuries.
“We have to continue to be hungry,” Brooks said. “We got 50-something games [left] and we’ve got to keep playing, but it feels great. I love the fact that we're being rewarded, our guys are being rewarded and these aren't easy wins. These are hard-fought 48 minutes of toughness, and we're making plays down the stretch. It seems like everybody is coming up big plays.”
Fultz looks to continue success against Washington
Magic guard Markelle Fultz entered Monday night’s game against Brooklyn in a bit of a scoring slump, having averaged just 7.0 points on 28.9% from the field in his previous five games. That slump came to an end against the Nets as Fultz played perhaps the best game of his career, scoring 25 points on 11-20 (.550) from the field to go along with five rebounds, four assists and two steals. The third-year pro scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and helped fend off a second-half Brooklyn run to preserve the win.
Fultz, a DMV native, has historically played his best basketball against the Wizards. Prior to setting a new career scoring high on Monday, Fultz’s previous two career highs were set earlier this season against Washington. In fact, three of Fultz’s six best scoring performances have come against the Wizards, including his 20-point, six-assist showing on December 3. In four career games against Washington, Fultz is averaging 16.3 points, 4.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game.